Students from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, returned to school today in a new school building with a new principal as the community tries desperately to return to a sense of normalcy after 20 children and six school professionals, including principal Dawn Hochsprung, were gunned down in a massacre that rocked the nation.
On the day that Sandy Hook students returned to the “Opening Day” of classes in nearby Monroe, CT, in the building of the former Chalk Hill Middle School, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced the creation of a panel to explore how to tighten state gun laws, improve mental health systems and ensure law enforcement agencies have the tools to protect schools. Even though Connecticut already has some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, Malloy said “we can still do more.”
The governor gave the panel a deadline of March 15 to report its findings, but it is expected to work beyond that. Malloy, speaking at a press conference Thursday in Hartford, appointed Mayor Scott Jackson of Hamden to chair the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, with other members with expertise in law enforcement, mental health, school safety, public safety and education to be appointed soon.
With the death of Hochsprung, Sandy Hook was in need of a school leader to step in to fill her very big shoes. The school community was extremely relieved when Donna Page, who was the principal for 14 years until she retired in 2010, decided to come out of retirement.
“The next piece of the puzzle was, okay who is going to take the reins here? Who could possibly come in and fill Dawn Hochsprung’s shoes?” parent Karen Dryer told ABCNews.com. “She was a truly amazing leader and friend. I worked very closely with her.”
“We didn’t think it was possible until we got a voicemail from Donna reintroducing herself and saying that when she heard [about the shooting] she knew it was the calling that she needed to come out of retirement and take the position of head of school. I started crying when I heard the message. It’s still emotional,” Dryer said, starting to cry again. “It was such a blessing and such an amazing relief because it was like, ‘Oh my, now we can breathe. They’re going to be okay.'”
Dryer’s daughter, who is now a high school sophomore, was a student at the school when Page was the principal.
“She’s amazing. She’s an extremely strong woman,” Dryer said. “She is the perfect person to come in and take control and lead this school and staff forward. She could be a tough one, but she does everything completely out of love. That’s why she stepped forward and came out of retirement.”
Page posted a letter to the school community via the school website.
“I want parents and families enduring the loss of their precious children to know their loved ones are foremost in our hearts and minds as we move forward,” Page wrote. “We recognize your needs are paramount in our preparations and planning. Your strength and compassion has been, and will continue to be an inspiration to me and countless others as we work to honor the memory of your precious children and our beloved staff.”